Colourmusic with Other Lives
ACM@UCO Performance Lab, 323 E. Sheridan
The members of Colourmusic think about sex a lot. They wrote their entire new album, “My _____ Is Pink,” about it.
But wait! It’s not what it sounds like, the Stillwater/England four-piece is quick to point out.
“Sexuality is one of the most important elements of music to affect people. We wanted to explore that element directly,” said Ryan Hendrix, lead vocalist and guitarist.
Added drummer Nick Ley, “Without being overt. It’s easy to sing some dirty lyrics.”
“It’s not a sexy record; it’s a record about sexuality,” said Colin Fleishacker, bassist.
As soon as they proved that they’re a thoughtful bunch, Ley broke in with a grin on his face. “Although, some of the songs, I think, are sexy,” he said.
The guys finish each other’s thoughts, which is impressive for a band that puts deep consideration into all aspects of its sound and performance. But that’s life in the Colourmusic camp: deep thought balanced with satisfying payoffs.
And there had better be some major rewards, because while sexuality is the main theme of the fresh-out, full-length sophomore release, it’s not the only one. (A goal of Hendrix’s? A record you can work out to.) Concepts exist for individual tunes, too, like “The Little Death (in Five Parts).” And if that wasn’t enough, the work fits inside the greater scheme that birthed and sustains Colourmusic.
Let’s take this from the meta and work inward, shall we?
Colourmusic was born in Stillwater in 2005, after a friendship between Hendrix and English exchange student Nick Turner turned into a musical project. The two held vastly different ideas of what the collaboration should be, so they brainstormed an unorthodox solution.
“He and I thought that if we gave each other a visual problem that we had to solve musically, we might be able to make a record together,” Hendrix said. And thus, the two men decided to make audio representations of colors, or Colourmusic. Apparently, Turner, who still resides in England, won the extra “u” for the name.
The group created EPs for the colors “Red” and “Yellow,” and then released orange as their first full album: “F, Monday, Orange, February, Venus, Lunatic, 1 or 13.” Their exploration of sexuality is an approximation of pink. They’re already writing purple, which Hendrix says is “kind of ‘Pink’ part two.”
Because each color is different, no two sets of tunes sound alike; therefore, each disc is a reinvention of the act’s sound. Instead of begrudging the hard work, Colourmusic relishes the freedom this approach allows.
“With some bands changing their sound, people say, ‘Oh, you used to be a dance-rock band.’ For us, if they understand the concept, it’s expected,” Fleishacker said. “Maybe if we do it this way, if we change our sound, it won’t be such a departure.”
Added Ley, “We’re removed from trends.”
“There’s no type of clothing to tell you what you’re getting into,” Hendrix said. “No one is certain.”
It’s not just Colourmusic’s unusual method that gave rise to the noisy, arty rock ’n’ roll of “My _____ Is Pink,” the act’s first release through Memphis Industries, home to such indie artists as Tokyo Police Club, Banjo or Freakout, and The Go! Team. The four members are all around 30 years old, which is much older than average for a group that’s about to release just its second long-player.
“I think it’s important for bands to be older,” Hendrix said. “They have more to say, and what they have to say isn’t related to being mad at parents.”
That mature depth of thought means that each color doesn’t just get some songs attached to it, but an entire theme. “Yellow” didn’t just have upbeat songs; it had wildly complex live shows that were equal parts performance art and concert.
“That was something we did on the first album because it was theatrical. We’re not doing that in the same way. It’s a little weirder,” Hendrix said.
The band has had haircuts onstage, dressed up as members of a family (both genders) and exercised during performances. The shows were informally known as “The Fan Show,” “The Family Show” and “The Saran Wrap Show,” where they took the stage behind a wall of colored plastic wrap. Needless to say, these gigs were never boring.
“It was much more whimsical. We went for theatrical,” Ley said. “It had more of a sense of humor.”
But that’s not where “Pink” takes them. Instead, Colourmusic’s members painted or taped their equipment the electric version of the color, and let it be. Then they mash out incredibly loud and powerful music.
“This album requires us to rock our faces off. ‘Chaos’ is an important word,” Hendrix said. “The ideas we have require us to make more chaos on stage.”
At the Oklahoma Film & Music Office’s Buffalo Lounge showcase at this spring’s South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, Colourmusic rattled the bar, throwing down complex creations that sometimes included two bass guitars. Hendrix’s vocals emerged alternately in roars and squeals. Turner occasionally wailed on additional drums. The rhythmic, bass-heavy assault lived up to the claims of chaos.
That erratic approach brought them new descriptions as “Oklahoma art-freaks” (The Denver Post’s Reverb blog) and “a hard-rocking psychedelic quartet” (Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis). Throw in some mentions of the esoteric, German experimental movement known as Krautrock; the only-slightly-more-well-known genre of shoegaze; and a Flaming Lips reference or two (“If you have a distorted guitar and you’re weird, you’re gonna get lumped in — it’s inevitable,” said Fleishacker; the bands share a manager in Scott Booker.), and you’ve got a basic approximation of what people think “Pink” sounds like.
Colourmusic is glad that its evershifting, multifaceted sound leaves much up to interpretation. The members actually encourage the process by obscuring many of their vocals and corresponding lyrics.
“We think that the vocals are an instrument. We don’t have a dominant singer,” said Hendrix.
Added Ley, “Our interpretation of sexuality comes out as much in the music, textures, chords as much as the lyrics.”
“To us, lyrics take a backseat to the music. Like My Bloody Valentine and ‘Loveless’: You have no idea what they’re saying, but emotion is invoked,” Fleishacker said.
It’s an intense appreciation for music that causes this, not a lack of love for the written word.
“When dealing with lyrics, it’s not that they’re not important. They are,” Hendrix said. “I don’t want people to know exactly what the song is about.”
That idea is also how they chose their album’s unique title, “My _____ Is Pink.”
“The space is really important. You assume that we’ll be talking about that, but we don’t want to be hitting people over the head,” Hendrix said.
And, just as changing their sound and style with each release is a double-edged sword, so it goes with their approach to lyrics and vocals.
“It’s very obvious to me that the main criticism is not hearing vocals,” Hendrix said. “That’s just how we hear music.”
Their often-aggressive sound and lack of discernible lyrics are all tied in to the sexuality that “Pink” explores.
“Sensuality and aggression have a lot in common,” Hendrix said.
Said Fleishacker, “Both are very primal forces.”
Colourmusic suggests listeners look no further than “The Little Death (in Five Parts)” to see how all the varied pieces of its sound come together.
“It’s the big picture of the record,” Fleishacker said. “It’s the climax of the record.”
Or, as Hendrix said, “If the whole record is an act of sex, that’s the orgasm.”
“And post-coital chill,” Ley said.